It is almost impossible for me to conceive of a Crowded House without Paul Hester. I think he was integral to everything I love about the band.
I can begrudgingly accept Crowded House with Neil Finn and Nick Seymour and/or Mark Hart.
Neil Finn and 3 guys named Joe? Not Crowded House for me. Even if one of those 3 guys is named Tim Finn.
This is where I'm at. I think anyone who Crowded House back in their heyday would say that Hester and the band's chemistry with each other was as much a part of the draw as the songs and performances.
To be honest - and I'm really trying hard to pick my words carefully here so please understand that I mean no offence to anyone - I find it genuinely baffling that anyone who can honestly say that CH and their music means much to them, or has had a great emotional impact on their life, can then happily accept the co-opting of the name for a set of recordings that were made when the band didn't exist.
If the draw of the band is Neil working with that set of musicians, I really can't understand how it would be acceptable to consider a set of songs made without that set of musicians as being band recordings. They're just not.
Several people in this thread have made silly comparisons to individual songs and suggested that, if TOE wasn't a CH album then songs like Now We're Getting Somewhere shouldn't be either. That's nonsense. It's common practice - in fact, one might well be hard pressed to find many albums - that don't feature outside assistance. The fact remains that four all of their first four albums, Crowded House entered a studio, recorded a set of songs together and released them as an album.
That didn't happen with TOE. Neil Finn entered the studio with a set of session musicians (one of whom happened to be Nick) and made a solo record. Crowded House didn't exist when those recordings were made. They weren't even on hiatus.
But what of Weather With You, I hear some shout. I agree that there are similarities between the TOE situation and that of WWY. However, there are important (to me) differences: WWY was recorded by the Finn Brothers at a time when CH still existed. They'd recorded Woodface but hadn't released it. The decision to co-opt that recording was taken by the band (albeit most like by Neil, but he was still IN the band and they were actively in existence working on the album). TOE wasn't recorded while the band were in existence and wasn't co-opted by them.
There's also the matter of scale. Of course, it would be impossible for me to set some kind of arbitrary rule over how many songs its okay to co-opt but there's clearly a difference between one or two songs and a whole album.
Now, much of this, I suspect, comes down to one's personal definition of what constitutes a band. There are a great many two-man bands in the world but Crowded House was never one of them. Going back to Brownie's point, I can grudgingly accept CH without Hessie. But CH is/was a band of more than two members and that band featured, at it's demise, Neil, Nick and Mark. Unless Neil had formally reformed CH, invited Mark and he'd declined to return, CH still needs to feature those three people in order to be CH. In my world.
Presumably, those who accept TOE as a band album are happy that anything featuring just Neil and Nick together is also CH. Personally I can't. It would imply I saw the band reform (for encores only) several times before TOE: every time Neil or the Finn Bros played Dublin! And several times after as well...
But I doubt anyone would seriously consider Nick guesting on a few performances as being a reformation. And yet that's exactly what happened - but on a grander scale - in the studio during the making of TOE.
So, rightly or wrongly, that's why I have a problem with accepting TOE as a band album.
One final question (and then I'm out of this thread): how do folks consider the track Alone from Out of Silence? It was written and performed by Neil and Tim so surely it must be a Finn Bros track, right? Or is it still a Neil solo song that Tim just happens to be on? In which case, what's the difference? I'd argue its that old thing Intent again. The song wasn't recorded with the intention of forming part of a Finn Bros record, which is why it isn't considered to be by them. At the risk of labouring the point, that's part of the reason why I can't accept TOE as a band album: it wasn't recorded by them with the intention of being their new album.
Now, I've beaten this horse to death, so I'll apologise to the OP for hijacking the thread.
In order to get it back on track, I'll add that I'm a big fan of TOE regardless of who I consider it to have been made by. It features some of Neil's best post TWT songwriting and some of the best performances/production of his solo career. I loved the production of TWT but found it very uneven in terms of song quality. One Nil/All had some terrific songs but was seriously compromised by some really poor production choices. Everyone is Here was an excellent album, well played and produced, and TOE followed in that vein. I don't like every song on the album - I could happily lose three or four tracks - and I regret the omission of Lost Island which is, perhaps, his most beautiful tune since Four Seasons.
But overall I think TOE is a terrific record. My difficulty with answering the OP's question directly is that, as you can see from the material I've chosen to compare it with, I have a hard time assessing it against the first four CH albums. But I guess you'd worked that out already